November 1, 2016 The View from the Top of First Church in Roxbury
In early June, scaffolding went up on the First Church in Roxbury, marking the beginning of the exterior restoration of Boston’s oldest surviving wood-frame church and home to the Unitarian Universalist Urban Ministry. Over the past five months a preservation carpentry team led by consultant and HBI advisor Andrea Gilmore have worked to complete the extensive exterior carpentry and painting on the 1804 church.
This week the scaffolding will come down marking the near completion of the exterior restoration of the federal period meetinghouse. But before they are disassembled, HBI got the chance to climb the scaffolding and explore the exterior restoration work firsthand.
Our tour guides for the occasion were Andrea Gilmore and the UUUM’s fundraising consultant Jeffrey Gonyeau. Andrea and Jeff oriented us to the building’s history and the scope of restoration work while inside the meetinghouse. UUUM is carrying out a substantial exterior restoration and painting of the church after many years of exposure and deterioration. The UUUM does not have a congregation worshipping from this meetinghouse, large enough to seat 800 people, but it plans to reactivate the interior of the church for community programs and cultural activities.
Inside the church, we saw the freshly repaired and painted clock hands set to be re-installed in the church tower’s four clock faces, all designed and installed in 1804 by the famous Roxbury clockmaker Solomon Willard. Gilmore says that the unpainted clapboards behind the clock faces confirm that the round black discs are original to the church and Willard’s clocks. Only in the late 19th century were the clock mechanisms changed by the Howard Clock Company. We also saw first-hand the giant decorative urns that are being restored to the base of the steeple.
Reaching the highest level of the scaffolding, we were face to face with the top of the steeple, its weathervane and stunning panoramic views of Boston. From our lookout, we could see everything from HBI’s Alvah Kittredge House, to the Hancock Tower, to the Boston Harbor Islands.
HBI is grateful to have had the chance to see such important preservation work taking place in the heart of Roxbury. The church’s clocks will soon be visible and will begin chiming the hours over John Eliot Square once again. While the full glory of the work they are doing will not be visible to the public until the scaffolding is down, the glimpses we got of the restoration of architectural detail, windows, and paint will make this one of the most beautiful buildings in the city.
Please note: Boston’s Handel and Hayden Society, which celebrates its 200th anniversary this year, performs at the First Church this Sunday, November 6th at 3 pm. H&H is holding a series of concerts in honor of the anniversary year at historic buildings that were here in the Boston are when the orchestra was formed. Visit http://www.uuum.org/?page_id=4264 for more information.